Workplace relationships have become an especially timely issue in the #MeToo era, with employees and employers collectively asking: are workplace relationships ever acceptable? And if so, what rules should govern them?

Before we even discuss workplace romance, it needs to be made abundantly clear: your workplace must have a current and enforceable sexual harassment policy. The existence and enforcement of a sexual harassment policy isn’t contingent on the prospect of workplace romance.

Sexual harassment policies are an essential feature of your standard suite of HR policies and procedures that clearly define the standards of acceptable workplace behaviour.

Employees who may be the victim of unwanted sexual advances need to have adequate support and access to a reporting mechanism that alerts their employers to inappropriate behaviour so swift action can be taken.

Banning office romance outright probably isn’t a realistic (or enforceable) position for an employer. A better option is to introduce policies that provide clearer definitions of acceptable office behaviour (such a policy could address something like public displays of affection, for example). It allows you to take action if romantic relationships impact on work duties or conduct, without banning the romance altogether.

Workplace romances become especially complicated when the relationship is between a supervisor and a direct employee. The power imbalance can add a murky undertone to such a relationship, and as we’ve seen with the #MeToo movement, this kind of power dynamic can too easily stray into exploitation.

1 in 10 Australians have experienced sexual harassment from a boss. With such worrying statistics, what should HR do in such circumstances?

Some companies resort to banning these relationships outright. While this may seem heavy-handed, other companies have introduced policies (known as non-fraternisation policies) whereby a romantic relationship will automatically trigger a change of reporting lines, or the manager is transferred to a different department.

Company policies and procedures aren’t much good if no-one knows they exist. This is where onboarding, induction and Employee Handbooks are especially important. You should also consider a program of internal refresher courses, so all employees are aware of company policies, and the official position on workplace relationships.

For further advice & support contact EAP Assist